A noteworthy and laudable statement was signed and made public in recent days by more than 100 charedi rabbis, asserting that Jewish law calls for reporting child abuse to civil authorities.
The rabbis cited a passage in the Torah — “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16) — as the basis for asserting that “any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse has a religious obligation to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information.”
This is a major step for those in a culture that has long believed such issues should be determined by religious leaders rather than civil authorities.
The blog Failed Messiah noted that with perhaps one exception, the rabbis who signed on are not top-tier leaders of charedi umbrella organizations and do not include members of the Agudath Israel Council of Sages or prominent rebbes of the chasidic movements. Their absence suggests they maintain that only leading Torah scholars can determine the halachic parameters of when a case should be given over to the police. But those rabbis who did sign on should be commended for doing so despite possible criticism in their communities where Das Torah, the concept that all major decisions be made by a leading Torah sage, holds firm.
That’s why the unequivocal public statement, based on “religious obligation” to report, is particularly significant. Hopefully, it will encourage leading rabbis to rethink their long held positions, given the dismal track record of abuse cases that go unreported, with untold suffering in their communities. The public document, called a “kol koreh,” or Torah proclamation, calls attention to the problem and may convince families and others to seek help, and justice, from the police and other civil authorities.
To date, most charedi publications and sites have not published the list of rabbis who noted that “lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse, as we are too often tragically reminded.”